Kirstyn Burke: September deadline to apply for core participant status in Covid-19 inquiry
The Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry has now launched its application process for those who wish to be core participants in the Inquiry. Unlike the UK Inquiry which is asking for applications on a module-by-module basis, the Chair is asking for all applications at the outset of the Inquiry.
Applications must be submitted by 16 September 2022.
The Inquiry has published a protocol setting out how core participant applications should be completed and how it will deal with them. It states that if an individual or organisation applies for core participant status after this deadline without reasonable explanation, their application is likely to be refused.
Therefore those who wish to obtain core participant status in respect of any aspect of the Inquiry, must apply by 16 September – you should not wait until the Inquiry reaches the stage of considering the terms of reference which are of interest to you.
We have discussed in a previous blog what it means to be a core participant.
Whilst being a core participant affords individuals and organisations a special status in the Inquiry, those who are not core participants can still be called upon to provide evidence to the Inquiry and may participate in the Inquiry’s Listening Project.
Approach the Inquiry is taking to applications
The Chair will consider applications taking into account the need to minimise delay and to avoid unnecessary costs in order to deliver a fair and just enquiry. While the Inquiry has acknowledged that the response to the pandemic directly affected everyone in Scotland, applicants are likely to only be granted core participant status if their participation will facilitate the better management of the Inquiry and its ability to meet its terms of reference.
The Protocol states that applicants “representing a number of people with similar interests may facilitate the most effective management of the Inquiry”. Therefore, umbrella groups representing the interests of their members will be well placed to make an application for core participant status.
Similarly, the Inquiry is encouraging individuals and organisations to group together to apply for core participant status and the Chair may direct applicants to obtain joint legal representation with others who have similar interests.
Invitations issued by the Chair
In addition to the application process, the Chair may invite individuals or organisations to become core participants. Generally, those who receive such an invitation should interpret it as a strong indication that there is good reason for them to participate in the Inquiry.
Decisions on applications
Applicants will be informed in writing by the Solicitor to the Inquiry of the outcome of their application and later this year the Inquiry will publish a list of successful applicants.
The Chair may designate applicants as core participants with limitations – for example, an applicant’s designation may only entitle them to participate in part of the Inquiry, it may not entitle them to appear at public hearings without leave to appear or it might be limited only to receiving a report prior to publication.
As they will receive information from the Inquiry before it is in the public domain, core participants have to sign confidentiality undertakings, which will continue to apply after the Inquiry has ended. A breach of such an undertaking could result in an individual or organisation losing their core participant status.
The Inquiry has confirmed that it will publish a separate funding protocol setting out the assistance that may be available to core participants who cannot meet the costs of the legal fees involved in participating in the Inquiry. However, it has noted that designation as a core participant does not automatically entitle a person to funding.
Persons, groups or organisations wishing to be designated as core participants should not delay in submitting their applications.